Friday, April 30, 2010

FILMMAKING: Making Do with What You've Got

Yes, I can fix an aircraft carrier with bubble gum, a paper clip, and a shoe lace. How does one gain this ability? Not being able to afford what I need, or not having the resources. Here I will tell you some ways to make do with what you've got when its not enough.

Ever been filming and realized that some piece of equipment

suddenly does not work correctly or as planned? Maybe you forgot some important item and don't have the time to go after it or a replacement. What do you do when something breaks and you don't have anything to hold it together? These all sound like game stoppers, but you don't know if they are game stoppers yet. The following story will demonstrate a way to combat these situations.

While on a fishing trip almost 2 hours from my home, I pushed the boat away from the dock, pulled the rope, started the outboard motor, and throttled up. The boat went nowhere. Why? The shear pin, the little pin that secures the propeller to the shaft, and breaks to save the shaft should it hit anything, was broken. Nothing was hit but it was over 30 years old and probably just broke from age. I had recently removed the replacement shear pins from my tacklebox because I had not used the motor for 10 years and forgot to bring them along. The trip is over, right? No way!

I looked in the boat to see what I had. I had a minnow bucket with a wire handle but it was too large in diameter to fit into the hole of the shaft and propeller. I looked in my tacklebox because I knew I had some rather large hooks for fishing with plastic worms. They were not as large as I thought and were too skinny. Then it occured to me. The hooks are made from hardened steel and are quite strong for their size. One hook would be too skinny but I could fit two of them into the hole. I used some pliers that I keep in my tacklebox to snap off the straight shank of the hooks and made two pins out of them just long enough to go through the propeller and shaft. I put them into the hole and replaced the rubber boot that covers the hole. This boot would keep the hook shanks in the hole. I pulled the rope.

I fished for the entire day, motoring all over the lake with the hook shanks holding the prop securely to the shaft.

What I learned long ago is that when you think you are screwed you have to find out if you are really screwed. Once you realize you do not have what you need you have to look to see what you have. Then you have to look at these things outside of your normal paradigm. Like with the hooks, a curved metal piece that catches fish and you hope you don't stick it in your finger. The way I viewed it in the example above was as a hardened peice of metal with a straight section and a curved section. It also had a loop at one end that could be used for several purposes. I removed the "hook notions" from the hook and instead broke it down into its parts.

In the movie "Apollo 13" when the space capsule did not have a functioning air filter system to remove carbon dioxide from the air the astronauts were breathing they gathered all the parts of things that were available to the astronauts on a table and the lead engineer said "Ok guys, this is what we've got. Now let's build a filtering system out of it." I LOVED that scene. It is how I have lived and died for most of my life, and now my secret was let out.

Having what you need is easy and comfortable. When you don't have what you need you enter the "next" mode; needing what you have. If someone were to hold a gun to your head and told you to make something out of some mud you could probably build a castle. You are already creative because you are a filmmaker. Just look at the situation as you just haven't figured out how to make things happen "yet." Sometimes it takes quite a bit of thinking, but the feeling of accomplishment and pride is incredible when you do the seemingly impossible.

Next time you are stuck, look around you at the things that are about you. That soda pop can could also be used as a weight or ballast if you put some water or dirt in it. It can help hold something in place, or it can be used as a base to hold something up when you place it in the hole. It might make a good sound effect for a fender getting crushed if you slow down the sound frequency in editing. It could be used to prop something up by placing it behind the object. The shiny bottom could reflect a spot of light. Set a number of them upside down on a board on the floor, gently wiggle the board while shining a light on the cans, and you have water reflections. Cut it open and you have a reflector for a light source. You also have replacement (aluminum) sheet metal for a repair. Potato cannons used to be made from pop cans, if you need something to shoot a projectile.

And you thought it was just trash.

So the next time you find yourself stuck, remember that you have not really found out if you are stuck yet. Look around you and see what you've got. There are astronauts counting on you to make something to save their lives, and your's. Creativity can save the day, and luckily you have already brought it with you.

- Steve Olander

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  1. I'm thinking you are the MacGuyver of Indie Filmmaking!

  2. Steve is Macguyver ;-) Steve - you will love this - on my last shoot - I had a crew person actually sitting around saying things like - my job description says I only walk on set when my time is ready per my job description - and if not for Craig my DP and all the other INDIE crew friendly people on set - so many shots and FX would not have come to pass - if everyone was like the one person who - as he put it - works on Hollywood Films and he don't do nothing but his job - Indie would just never make it - everyone on an Indie set has to be creative and make work with what's available - creative thinking - people saying - how can we get this done - not why it can't be done. Ask me if I'll ever use that one person again lol. Point of all this - you Steve - exactly the type of person I crave working with - there are tons of the other types - and I don't care about them at all - it's the ones in the trenches that are PASSIONATE about getting it done - no matter the bumps - those are the types one wants to go into battle with. ;-)

  3. I have found in my life that I gain something from most every experience, and not having money made me very resourceful! I don't know if I would have this ability if I always had the guy that walks onto the job only to do his description when it is time to do so, and no more. ;)